Top 6 Financial College Prep Tips You Should Know
The summer after graduating high school is one of the most exciting times in a person’s life. You’ve got fun memories in the rearview and new experiences just around the corner. The time between high school and college might be short, but it offers the opportunity to learn, grow and become more independent. In a matter of a few months, you’ll be meeting new people, trying new hobbies and experiencing new ideas, which can be as overwhelming as it is thrilling. Of course, none of this can happen without first tackling your finances. Before you head off to campus this fall, it’s important to understand the weight of your financial decisions. Here are our thoughts on how to save some green.
- Learn to cook
When you picture yourself chowing down in college, perhaps you imagine yourself in a dining hall or ordering late night pizza. While there is little doubt that you’ll want to dig into these options, they can add up quickly. If you’ll be living in an apartment or dorm with kitchen access, the smartest thing you can do is learn to cook; ideally before you use the common kitchen for your first cooking test run. Even if you eat a majority of your meals on campus, you can save hundreds of dollars by making your own coffee and simple snacks to take with you each day. The best part? When all your new friends are burned out on cafeteria meatloaf, you’ll become the MVP of your social circle.
If you’re never cooked before, start small. Perfect the art of the sandwich and you’ll never go hungry again! Lunch meat and PB&Js are college staples for a reason. Easy, affordable and quick, sandwiches can be as low-key or fancy as you’d like. Once you’ve mastered the sandwich, graduate to pasta. There are millions of recipes online geared toward beginning chefs, so the world is your oyster!
- Be sure to compare other options than the bookstore
The campus bookstore is no doubt an exciting place to shop. Decked out in school memorabilia and crowded with your peers, the bookstore is the hub of campus life for the first and last few weeks of the semester. Campus bookstores are convenient, but they’re often far more expensive than other outlets. Be sure to check if your bookstore offers price match on textbooks and supplies. If not, consider shopping online. While the delivery may take a few extra days to arrive, it is another way you can save some money.
Another option for textbooks is to check out your college library. Most schools require professors to keep a copy of the assigned textbooks in the library for student access. While you may not be able to check the book out to take home, using the library’s copy of your textbook is another great option.
- Get an on-campus job
Work study is a tried and true recommendation for students on a budget. Considering that these jobs are often low pressure and decently paying, what’s not to love? Though not everyone qualifies f or work study, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other opportunities nearby. Consider working as Resident Assistant (RA) in exchange for free or reduced room and board. Sign up to give tours around campus, check out books for students in the library or serve lunch in the cafeteria. These jobs are designed with your class schedule in mind and are convenient.
- Consignment shop ‘til you drop
For many, a freshman dorm is the first opportunity to live on your own. Maybe you’ve shared a room with your sibling your entire life and are eager to make your dorm your own. It’s easy to overspend on decor when you’re excited, but an empty checking account can give you serious buyer’s remorse. Instead of splurging at the department store on brand new items, consider shopping at consignment shops and thrift stores. Not only will you save money by buying used, you’re practically guaranteed to find unique pieces that no one else will have. Since dorm decor can be cookie cutter, this is a definite perk.
Don’t feel the need to buy everything on your dream decor list right away either. If you can’t find a cute bookshelf the first weekend you start looking, don’t settle for one you’re not crazy about. While you might feel pressured to have the perfect dorm room upon move in, the reality is that you’ll have all year to curate your space. Focus on function first, then allow yourself to be picky about the things you add as you go.
- Say yes
College, above all else, is a time of opportunity. When else in life will you have the chance to take classes on obscure philosophers or play Ultimate Frisbee with foreign exchange students? By being open to new experiences, you open yourself up to every opportunity, financial or otherwise. Joining a club you’re not sure about could lead to you meeting your new best friend, while signing up for a research program could net you some extra cash. Even internships you’re nervous about now could lead to a job after graduation. You’ll be bombarded with chances to meet new people and earn cash in college, so seize the day and don’t be afraid to try new things.
- Make (and Stick to!) a Budget
For many students, college offers the first opportunity to create a budget and stick to it. Independence comes with a lot of privileges, but without planning and a little to no discipline, you’ll be stuck wondering how to pay for many of those experiences. Budgeting doesn’t have to be hard. Start by making a list of all your expected monthly expenses. Include any bills you pay, like your cell phone and car insurance, but also list out the purchases you anticipate making, like groceries or birthday gifts for friends. It’s often hard to stick to our budgets and it’s sometimes even impossible, no matter how hard we try. This leads many to look towards loans as a way of making up the cash they don’t currently have access to, with Amigo loans being a popular guarantor lender.
Next, list out all your expected income. Whether you have money coming in from a work study job or you plan to divvy up your scholarship or student loan money across the semester, it’s a good idea to know exactly how much money you’re working with that month. Finally, track your spending as the month goes on. Each time you make a purchase, save your receipt and enter the figure into a spreadsheet, app or even a personal journal. However you choose to track, doing so can help illuminate habits and help you keep your finances in check.
As you head to campus this fall, keep these financial tips in mind. While not every tip might apply to your situation, these are great guidelines to bear in mind as you make important financial decisions. No matter which strategies you employ to stay on budget, Reality Changers has your back. Committed to student success, we’re here to ensure you have the best college experience possible. See some of our student success stories to understand just how much Reality Changers can do for you.